Theology and rap are hardly kissing cousins. One is the purview of academics laboring in seminaries, the other was born in the South Bronx in the 70s. Turns out they were made for one another. Rising rap star Lecrae seamlessly blends gospel-saturated lyrics with the hooks of southern style hip-hop, and the result is something you have to hear to believe.
Through Reach Records, the label he founded, he is leading a movement of artists spreading the message of the gospel through hip-hop which is quickly gathering a groundswell following.
His recent albums, Rehab and Rehab: The Overdose ,debuted at No. 5 and No. 4 respectively on the Billboard Rap albums chart. Rehab was also nominated for a Grammy in the Best Gospel Rock/Rap album category (Switchfoot's Hello Hurricane won). His music has piqued the interest of people from John Piper to Jay-Z.
We caught up with Lecrae shortly after the Grammys.
You just got back from the Grammys. What was that like?
It was really great. I think God strategically placed us there. I think I met everyone except Justin Bieber. I met a lot of people in the hip-hop community—Lil Wayne and Drake and those guys. I didn't have the longest of conversations with the guys at the top of the totem pole, but some of the producers and managers and lawyers. I really did get to build some strategic relationships. So I'm excited to see the fruit of those.
Let's talk about Rehab and Overdose. Why the theme of addiction?
I had just moved to a new city (Atlanta). My church (Blueprint Church) wasn't really established yet; I was helping with that. I was in a leadership seat and didn't have a lot of people who were pouring into me—just a dry season. I needed rehabilitation. And so I just wanted to cry out in music, and I think it was perfect for anybody who was saying, man, help, I need more. I need something. I need rehabilitation. You're addicted to self, and everything other than Jesus becomes the drug of choice.
Many of your songs take traditional hip-hop themes—drugs, sex, money, fame—and turn them on their heads. Tell me about that process.
It's ultimately the principle. There's something inherently wrong with created beings being the center of our desire. Let's deconstruct that perspective and then reconstruct it with the right one. People appreciate that because they're like, Man, I know. I understand what he's articulating. I just wasn't able to put words around it. I know there's emptiness, but I don't know what else there is. When you point out that they're pursuing something that is vain and empty, people relate to that.
As you become more well-known, how do you stay true to the gospel and at the same time relevant to the hip-hop conversation?
That's always the tension. The biggest thing is seeing what you do as an opportunity to tell a story, so it just depends on what story I'm going to tell. Am I going to tell the story of Christianity, or am I going to tell a story that people just want to hear that's palatable?
Also, making sure the people around you are advocates of God's heart, mission, and humility. Where a lot of people will have entourages of people who tell them how awesome they are, I have people who are constantly reminding me of why I'm there. And we're praying. I mean, we bathe every day in prayer.
I heard that Jay-Z was considering signing you. How do you process that?
I don't think there's a clear cut answer to a lot of the questions; it's always testing everything by the Spirit and according to the Scriptures. I look at someone like Abraham who helped out the King of Sodom and was offered a gift, and Abraham turned it down because he said I don't want anyone to be able to say that they made me rich (Gen. 14:21-23). I don't want anyone to be able to take credit for what God has done.
I think I have a unique story—independent label, we've done everything on our own. The little noise that we've made has been by the grace of God. It hasn't been because we have an incredible marketing strategy or we're signed to some powerhouse label. It's just been God's grace placing us where we are.
How do you make hip-hop accessible to those in the church?
Genesis makes it clear that God made all things good. First Timothy 4 tells us that nothing is to be rejected if it's received with thanksgiving. What we tend to do is make the protagonist the Christian and the antagonist music or culture. The things aren't the problem; our hearts are the problem. And only God will change that.
You tweeted "Musical recognition is not my ultimate goal; a gospel-centered movement is. My music is just one soundtrack to our movement." Explain?
Music is great, and I think that God is glorified through my music, because it points to him as the Giver. Similar to nature—you walk outside and you're like, Oh wow, that's beautiful, and that points to the truth that there is a God. What it won't do is articulate how you can know this God, and the sin that keeps you from knowing this God. So my music is a soundtrack and it's a tool. I want to use this opportunity to resource a gospel-centered movement where people can come to understand who Jesus is and become Christians.
Is Reach Records the musical arm and ReachLife the ministry arm?
Yes. With Reach Records, we want to change the way that people see the world though music. ReachLife creates tools and resources to encourage people and point them to truth. We developed gospel tracts that someone who loves pop culture and hip-hop culture will relate to. We've also developed discipleship tools. We walk people through Paul's thirteen letters in a very culturally relevant way. We're developing a resource called ManUp, which articulates biblical manhood. And recently we've partnered with a foundation to plan a campaign for sending people to schools and seminaries and putting money into urban churches and churches in disenfranchised areas.
How have your trips to Haiti and Sudan informed your ministry mindset?
In a multitude of different ways. For one, things become very real. When Paul talks about laying aside every sin and weight that entangles you, a lot of weights fall off when you go to devastated places. You begin to see that the treasure really is the gospel fleshed out in people being loved and fed and helped and cared for. And all the other things kind of fall off—the lights, cameras, action, the notoriety, the numbers, the stage, the crowd. That stuff just becomes fleeting.
But outside of that, I saw the voice that I had [with Western audiences]. Is anybody listening to me? Let me tell them about what's going on. Some people may find it in their heart to say, How can I serve and how can I be a light?
Tell me about Atlanta and the Blueprint Church you mentioned earlier?
Atlanta's an incredible city, and it's got tons of churches, and it's very saturated with Christianity, but I think people are looking for something that speaks authentically to every aspect of life, not just Sunday morning. And not just sanctification and salvation, but who's going to speak to me as an architect, as a musician, and how do I use that for God's glory. I think my music attracts a diverse culture [to the church]—black, white, Hispanic, Asian. And they don't get together because of race; they get together because of some shared beliefs and customs that I think hip-hop facilitates. Blueprint's not a hip-hop church, nor do I want to be part of a hip-hop church, but it does paint a picture of that diverse culture kind of coming together.
What unifies all of these projects that you have your hands in?
More than anything, a biblical worldview. I'm a person who lives from the lens of Christianity, laying down different aspects of my life to serve who I worship; my music points to whom I worship. My trips overseas point to whom I worship. What I do with my local city points to whom I worship. That's true for everybody—whether it's Jesus or whether it's money, your music is going to point to whom you worship.
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